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Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
146 W. Lockwood
Dinner only, Mon–Sat
Average Main Course: $15.
Dress: Not ballgame casual, but casual.
Reservations: No, they don’t take ’em. Yes, it’s irritating.
Chef: Marc Del Pietro
You’ll be disappointed. If, like us, you were jazzed to witness the actual butchering of dinner, you’re to be excused for thinking so. Stroll into The Block, and there’s a glass-fronted case full of glorious protein: delicately marbled rib-eyes, chunky porterhouse steaks, ranks of thick bacon rashers, roasts, and chops. It looks like a butcher shop. Keep going, though, past the small, stylish bar and into a spacious dining room that looks out onto Lockwood Avenue, in the heart of Webster Groves.
And there was no Sam the Butcher—it was Amber the Waitress who handed us menus. We noted the prices; the half-dozen main courses here are so affordable that the expanse of appetizers appears even more attractive. That’s where to begin. More precisely? The pork confit, a.k.a. the Potted Pig. It’s splendid; it should be a signature dish. Chunks of smoky, impossibly tender pork, slowly braised in its own succulent fat, are packed into a glass jar to be spooned onto slices of rough country bread brushed with olive oil and grilled. This single appetizer is worth the trip. Fried green tomatoes are enlivened with blue cheese and mild, crunchy slaw. A fricassee of mushrooms is enjoyable, topped with goat cheese, though this appetizer would have been improved enormously by using wild mushrooms instead of the insipid button fungus. The Block has a cornmeal crust down perfectly—it dusts a trio of shrimp, which are pan-fried golden, then laid on a cushion of grits swirled with cheddar and herbs and crisscrossed with a honey-based barbecue sauce.
Salads are worthwhile. The house version, a Cobb, uses a piquant buttermilk dressing with greens, bacon crumbles, tomatoes, and herbed croutons with blue cheese. When we visited, a late-summer spinach salad featured dominoes of watermelon to add a sweet crunchiness, offset by almonds, feta, and citrus vinaigrette.
That same golden crust on the shrimp appetizer attends a pair of trout fillets, among The Block’s best main courses. Think “Southern fried trout.” The cornmeal coating accentuates rather than overpowers. It’s a beautiful presentation, the fillets artfully arrayed atop a bed of puréed cauliflower, along with green beans, fried onions, and a dollop of herb butter.
A chicken breast was roasted just a trifle too long. The herby, lemony fragrance of the skin is delightful; the meat, though, was overdone. But this dish deserves a chance for the delicious chicken sausage that accompanies it, along with peas and carrots and a tasty reduction sauce—it would be outstanding with a little more attention to roasting time.
What two words set a St. Louisan’s heart aflutter? Free refills. No, we mean the other ones: pork steak. Given the iconic nature of this cut, it’s interesting that so few local restaurants carry it. The Block does. Braised. With roasted potatoes and wilted spinach. While a sweet barbecue sauce is brushed on, the braising reduces the meat to a soft, almost candy-like flavor. And the sauce lends it a familiar, mildly burnt flavor of the sort found on Labor Day grills from Fenton to Florissant.
Each night, a special “butcher’s cut” is offered. It might be a rib-eye one night and a New York strip the next. It’s a pleasant surprise to see what’s available from the case that night and have the option to take some home, a happy feature that should make The Block a destination for steak lovers.
A Block burger has that rich, mineral tang of grass-fed beef. The patty is thick, cooked to order, with a fresh-baked bun. A square of cheddar on top adds little. When we tried it, it wasn’t melted and had little flavor. Oh, but did we mention the bacon jam? Wow. Order a bowl of this, and slather it on that burger or on the BLT, with house-smoked bacon and garlic mayo. Or just put a schmear on your napkin, and nibble on that. It’s really that good.
Two out of three sides offered hit the mark. Two cheddars—sharp and mild—and pepper jack work with macaroni that has a pleasant flavor. But the texture is unattractive, as if the sauce broke. The garlic herbed fries are equal to the best steakhouse frites. Corn fritters are even better. Globs of light, puffy batter are studded with fresh kernels, then deep-fried to a caramel brown, creating a dish that smells and tastes like summer’s first harvest.
Bishop’s Peak Winery puts out the most dependable cab savs in California’s climatologically goofball Paso Robles region; all the steaks here will be thankful you matched them with the ’08. There’s a particularly thoughtful collection of chardonnays, some intriguing pinot noirs, or if you fancy something lighter, a draft or bottled beer is absolutely de rigueur.
Desserts, like berry cobblers, brownies with candied pecans, and bacon ice cream, are imaginative and luxurious. Yes, we said bacon ice cream.
Save for a folksy rendition of a pig on one wall, the decor is minimal. Beautiful wooden floors and an exposed metal ceiling are attractive, but they don’t do much to absorb sound. The Block is noisy—not a Chuck E. Cheese birthday-party noisy, but more of an “Excuse me, Amber, could you repeat those desserts? Did you really say ‘bacon ice cream?’” noisy.
Service is efficient and friendly; it’d be nice if Amber and associates memorized the evening specials instead of reading them. But give it to the staff here: The place is crammed, yet courses arrive swiftly, and attention is just right.
The Block presents some very good food and inventive dishes. The atmosphere’s convivial, upscale yet casual. Just don’t be too disappointed that there isn’t any actual butchering going on tableside.
The Bottom Line: Come for some inexpensive American fare. Stay for the pork confit. Leave with a rib-eye.